Kinship Caregivers:

We are the courageous relatives parenting our relatives. We are grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, and other relatives who love our families and believe in keeping our families together.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What? Where's the Blog?

Thank you for coming to visit.  I've moved the blog over to a new website called RaisingKin.com.  Why?

The reason I made this move is because I wanted the ability to have pages with links to information for kinship caregivers.  I also wanted to gain experience with website design, because my career is to develop curriculum and learning.  It is helpful for me to learn how to build and maintain a website.  If I don't use what I am learning, I will lose it.  Not to mention it's already hard to remember anything - kidding, kidding.  That's why God made trees - so we would have paper to write notes to remember everything.

Come see the website and bookmark it.  The blogs will be there, under the "Blog" tab.  Here's a link to make it quicker to find:  RaisingKin Blog

Hope to see you at the website!

Amy

Kinship Care: The "F" Word

Hey you all! I am back!! This is my last week of graduate school. Hopefully by this time next week I will be 100% done with all my school work. I have missed being here, telling you my stories of kinship care. I want to thank you all for being patient with me. It was a grind – but we did it!!!

I have been thinking a lot lately about the “F” words – you know the ones, FAIR and FEAR. Today I will talk about fair.

It does not seem fair that I take so much responsibility for a child I love so much, but never imagined would be my responsibility to raise, to keep safe, to handle all the hurts, the tears, and the confusion he feels. Granted, I do get the good stuff too – all the hugs, the “I love you grandma” and just plain laughter.

I will tell you the truth that I believe many kinship caregivers face – we get days when it is so incredibly difficult to not feel very angry at the parents. I have written about some of those days.

My third grandson was born in March. I was so happy for my son and his wife. Everything went perfect, with no complications. My grandson and I drove to the hospital excited to see our newest family member. Of course, Murphy’s Law would happen. The moment I parked my car, my cell phone rang. I saw the number and knew it was my daughter. Here’s the dilemma – should I answer? When she calls, it’s usually a request to drop whatever I am doing and do something for her.

Out of respect for my son, I had not discussed they were expecting a baby. She knew they were, but I just didn’t talk about it with her. It’s complicated – like most decisions are with kinship care. My daughter asked to speak with her son and he told his mom he was going to see his uncles’ baby. He was excited. He gave the phone back to me. My daughter asked me to take some photos with my phone and send her some pictures. I told her I would not because her brother would not appreciate that. She hissed back, “Well, it’s only fair since I can’t see him”.

I think my brain exploded. Fair! Did she really say “fair”? I mean seriously!

I think every kinship caregiver who is raising a relative because the parents are either addicts, alcoholics, or in jail – which is the large majority of us – would all feel the same shock. It seems like the last person to talk about fairness would be the parent.

I know drug and alcohol addiction makes it impossible for her to see the truth. That’s how I coped with her statement – and continue to always remind myself. She is sick – physically, mentally and spiritually. She doesn’t understand because she is sick and can’t understand.

It’s not fair. Nobody said being a kinship caregiver would be fair, feel fair, or look fair. In fact, it’s not fair. That is the reality of kinship care and we see the reality every time we look at our child relative.

Let’s face it. Things weren’t fair when we were a kid and whined to our parents, “it’s not fair!”. Maybe that feeling of injustice carries into adulthood. However, by now we have the sense to know that even though something may not feel fair, it can still be the right thing to do. It’s time to get over the, “it’s not fair!”

I am a grandma raising my grandson. It’s all good. And I am glad to be back.

Just a reminder:  please come visit me at my website - which is where I will be moving this blog to:  www.raisingkin.com

Friday, March 16, 2012

Moved to Website

Hi everyone!

I'm getting this website/blog going, so please come see me at www.raisingkin.com

Please consider bookmarking the website and sharing it with all your social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc).

I am so grateful for my readers and I hope you will move along with me to this new site.  I think we will have more fun at the webpage, can share ideas and resources we know about.  Together we can raise awareness of kinship care and our needs - and victories! :)

My posts on this blog will be copied over, so the history will be at the website.

I'm excited to get this far!!!  I hope you are, too.

I want to sing like Dora the Explorer, "We did it, we did it!"

See you there!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Kinship Care: It's All My Fault

Kinship caregivers raise their relatives for many reasons.  Parents may have problems with drugs or alcohol.  They may not want to parent their child(ren).  The parent(s) may have died.  The parent(s) might be incarcerated.  There are many reasons and it’s important to understand that although my daughter is an addict who neglected her son, not all relatives raising their relative are doing so because of addictions.

For those who are raising their relative because the parent(s) are addicts or alcoholics, perhaps you will relate to this story.

My daughter is 26 years old and a meth addict.  She tells me the reason she is a drug user is because I was a bad mother.  She has also told me she resents how I raise her son – that I do a much better job raising him than I did raising her.    

When she says I was a bad mother, there is a part of me that really hurts. If I am completely honest, I was not a perfect parent. I made mistakes.  Her dad and I divorced when she was four.  I moved a lot.  When she was seven I remarried.  Seven years later, another divorce and we moved again. She did have a lot to deal with.  Add to that her behavioral issues I worried about since she was just a toddler.  Those behaviors later led to her diagnosis of bipolar, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, obsessive/compulsive disorder, and more.  She was not an easy child to parent.

We were also poor when I wasn’t married and a one-income household. My daughter will claim that was a hardship for her.  Until 2003, I never earned more than $15,000/year.  I do not believe being poor made me a bad mother or caused my daughter to be an addict. Being poor did make me see there had to be another way – a better way.

When I was 36 I set out to earn my bachelor’s degree by the time I was 40.  In 2004, at age 40, I earned my bachelor’s degree and my income rose to a livable level – the lower end of middle-class status. I then set a goal to try to earn a master’s degree by the time I would be 50.  Today at age 48, I am two months away from earning my master’s degree.

I can’t go back in time and fix my mistakes parenting my daughter.  I don’t get a “do over”.  I agree with my daughter that I am doing a better job parenting at age 48 than I did in my 20’s and 30’s.  As we age, we get wiser.  We have experiences to draw upon.  Isn't that a good thing?

My daughter has a disease called addiction and it is not my fault or the direct result of my parenting.  Addicts and alcoholics look for people to blame and my daughter is no different.  She blames me.  I have to remember what Alanon teaches me: I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it. 

On the left sidebar of this blog there is a link to private online support groups for kinship caregivers.  I invite any kinship caregiver reading this to please consider joining these private online support groups.

Without the help of my kinship support group friends, I would continue to feel very isolated with my experiences as a kinship caregiver.  Having an online group of friends and their support has made a huge difference in my ability to handle being a relative raising a relative.  The groups are closed to the public so what you share will not appear on your Facebook public page. You can also choose not to share anything and just read the experiences other members share.  You will see you are not alone. You will see, as I have, it is not our fault. Come join us.  If you don’t like it, you can always leave.

To my readers of this blog, thank you for your support and encouragement.  I do hope sharing these stories give you strength and hope.  Thank you for being so courageous and parenting your relative.  You did not look the other way when you saw a child needed their family.

I am a good grandma raising my grandson.  It’s all good.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Kinship Caregiving: Sacrifices

Families change in many ways when we raise relatives.  Some seem obvious, such as the financial hardships that occur when we suddenly find ourselves raising a relative.  Some changes are not so obvious.  When I took responsibility for raising my grandson in 2008, I owned a severe macaw bird and a cat.

In 2009, I had to find a home for my bird.  He was becoming loud and was biting my grandson.  After he bit my grandson a second time, I knew my bird would have to go.  It was a devastating decision for me.  I had owned my macaw for seven years and truly thought I would have him until I die.  Macaws can easily live 70 years or more.    

Another year went by and my grandson was three.  He was running around in our apartment, jumping, falling, and making noises that toddlers make.  I had neighbors living below my apartment and above my apartment.  Although my neighbors never complained openly, I worried about the noise.  I knew we needed to move to a home where he could run and play like three-year olds do. 

I found a side-by-side bungalow rental.   The rent was nearly the same and we would have a yard and a long driveway that would be great for summertime.  There was one drawback – the landlord didn’t allow pets and I had a cat.  Once again, I had to find a home for my pet so we could move to a place that was “kid-friendly”.

I never thought raising a relative would mean losing my pets.  We do what we need to do.  I am not the first relative who had to move or make other difficult sacrifices in order to raise a relative.

We have been living in our bungalow for over two years.  I still firmly believe a child should grow up with a pet.  I believe having a pet can teach a child about responsibility, how to nurture, and can help kids express feelings.  I don’t really want to move so we can have a pet.  We like where we live. 

I decided to give my landlord a call and ask if he would reconsider his ‘no pet’ policy.  I figured the worst that could happen is he would tell me no.  I got up my courage, said a quick prayer, and called him.  I told him I have lived in his property for nearly three years and I have been a good tenant.  I take care of his property and pay my rent. I told him I felt it is important for children to grow up with a pet and I want to give my grandson the same opportunity.  I asked him if we could have a cat.

To my surprise, he said yes!  I was thrilled! 

Last week we brought home “Butter”, an orange and white cat.  He doesn’t seem to mind being half-carried, half dragged around our house by a five-year old boy! 

As a kinship caregiver, I have made many sacrifices to raise my grandson.  Being able to have a pet again feels like I am finally able to have a piece of my “old” life back. 

I am one happy grandma raising my grandson (and a cat).  It’s all good.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Kinship Caregiving: Keeping Relatives Safe

I remember visiting my grandson and his mom (my daughter) during the summer of 2008. My grandson was about 18 months old and they lived almost 40 miles away from me.  I did not see them often after my grandson was returned to his parents in September 2007.  My daughter was angry with me and did not want to see me.  She was angry her son was placed with me the previous summer – as if I had something to do with the drug raid resulting in her son being placed with me! 

When I arrived at her apartment, it was dirty.  There were dishes piled up, crusted with dried food.  The trash was spilling over on to the kitchen floor where my grandson could walk in it.  "Try not to judge" I thought to myself.

I wasn’t sure at the time what was happening with my daughter.  I thought she was going through a hard time, having just left the father of my grandson.  I didn’t know she was already in the life of drugs and addiction.  If I did, then I guess I just didn’t want to see it.

During my visit, her neighbor came to her door.  My grandson hurried to the door, trying to push the door shut to prevent her from coming in.  I thought it was strange behavior.  I certainly got the impression he did not want her coming in! I knew this woman would come over often, only because she frequently answered the phone when I would call. 

I stayed for about two hours.  During the visit, my grandson stayed by my side or on my lap. 

About five minutes after I left, my daughter called me.  I answered the phone and could hear my grandson screaming and crying uncontrollably in the background.  My daughter was laughing, saying “See grandma, he does want you!”  I told her I was driving and couldn’t talk and hung up.  Instead of comforting my grandson, she was laughing! It was a strange call and unsettling.

This memory haunts me today. 

It would be just a few months later that I would piece all the clues together.  My daughter would often leave my grandson with the neighbor lady all day and overnight.  She hadn’t paid her rent for several months and was being evicted.  She would frequently leave my grandson with his father, who would then call me looking for my daughter. 

During the next few months I made numerous calls to the county social worker who worked with my daughter when my grandson was removed from her.  I told the social worker I suspected my daughter was using drugs.  I told her I suspected she was neglecting him.  I also made reports to to my daughter's probation officer.  Every time I would get the same answer – we don’t have enough evidence.

During October of 2007, my daughter was hospitalized for a bad infection in her hip.  While she was in the hospital I took her clothing home to wash them.  Inside her bag of belongings, I found a meth pipe.  I was shocked and wondered what to do. 

I did what I thought was right. I again called the social worker and reported what I found.  I called her probation officer and told him what I found.  The social worker said she could not prove the pipe was around my grandson so there was nothing she could do.  The probation officer said he couldn’t prove the pipe belonged to her since it was not found by the hospital staff – as if I planted a meth pipe in her belongs!

I finally broke down into tears while talking to the social worker.  I begged her to please tell me what could be done to protect my grandson.  It was finally at this point she told me any adult can file an Order for Protection on behalf of a minor if they are concerned about the safety of a child.  How I wished I had known that sooner.  I thought Orders for Protection were used only by adults needing protection.

I remember going to the county court house on October 31, 2008.  I asked the counter clerk for the paperwork to file an Order for Protection.  She gave me the forms and I sat on a bench in the courthouse hallway, filling out the form and writing all the dates and details of everything I knew occurred during the previous months.  My hands were shaking.  Once finished, I handed the paperwork to the clerk.  She told me to have a seat in the hallway and wait for my name to be called.

It was a stressful wait.  Finally the clerk called my name.  I went to the counter and she said, “The judge signed the form.”  I asked her what that meant.  She pointed to the box on the front of the form indicating the judge agreed the child was in danger.

It’s funny.  Even though I felt sure my grandson was in danger, I did not fully trust my observations or intuition.  When I saw the judge’s signature, I let out a deep breath.  I finally felt validated. I was not crazy. What I was seeing was not good and the judge believed the same thing. 

I asked the clerk, “So, it’s okay for me to go get my grandson?  I have the legal right?”  She simply replied, “Yes, ma’am”.

I picked up the paperwork and walked out of the courthouse.  That’s when the tears started.  Finally somebody was helping my grandson!  Finally somebody believed me. 

As a kinship caregiver, I can tell you the “system” does not always work like we think it should or even would.  I was so na├»ve.  I learned how tricky it can be to prove a child is in danger.  Even when I found the drug pipe, thinking certainly anybody would agree that cannot be a good thing – the legal system (probation officer) and human health services (social worker) could not help my grandson.

From this experience I can tell you that it is very important to keep good notes.  Write down the dates of everything you witness.  Write down who you talked to.  Write it all down because there may come a day when those notes will make a big difference.  Having my notes was so important when I requested the Order for Protection.  I had the dates of every report I ever made and who I spoke with. 

When I think back on that phone call when my grandson was crying so uncontrollably, it still brings tears to my eyes.  I hope to never hear him cry like that again. 

I am a grandma raising my grandson.  It’s all good today.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Kinship Caring: Being a Grandma and Expectations

I am going to be a grandma again on March 7th.  My son and his wife are expecting their first child.  I am so excited!  I am also nervous.

I am nervous because I wonder if I will know how to be “just” a grandma.  I have been raising my grandson for over three years now.  I was his caregiver for nearly four months during his first year.  Do I know how to be a “love them and leave them” grandparent?  Will I have the time and energy for my new grandbaby while I raise my grandson?  What is “enough time” anyway?

I also wonder how being a “real” grandma will impact my grandson.  If I spoil my new grandchild, will my grandson be jealous?  Will my grandson wish he had a “real” grandma?

Family dynamics change when we become a kinship caregiver.  Roles change. 

In July 2010 my daughter was arrested.  While in jail she found out she was pregnant with her second child.  The court granted a furlough to in-patient treatment instead of jail time.  I am grateful she was able to stay sober until the birth of my second grandson on January 9, 2011.

My daughter made an open adoption plan for the baby.  She found a wonderful couple who lives nearby.  I envisioned I would be involved in my newest grandson’s life as his grandparent. His adopting parents have been so gracious and welcoming.  

I have not done a good job of being a grandma to my second grandson.  Not long after he was born, my daughter left one weekend and never came back.  I had to hurry and find a fulltime daycare for him and take him out of Head Start (a preschool) so I could continue working.  I was back in the “reacting to life” mode of living.

In hindsight, I think I had so much to deal with that I could not think about this new grandson.  When I did, I would cry.  Add to that, my grandson struggled with why his mom was suddenly gone.  This time, he was old enough to miss her after spending six months knowing his mom.  He experienced behavioral setbacks, following me around to each room of our small bungalow, suddenly having to sleep with me every night – something he never did before.

The stress of the situation created a flare-up of my rheumatoid arthritis.  The entire summer of 2011 was filled with daily chronic pain, various physical therapy sessions, doctor appointments, new medications and resulting side-effects.  It was such a struggle to get through each day. 

The next thing I knew, it was fall and ten months had flown by since my second grandson was born. 

During the past three months I have gone to visit my new grandson.  Visiting him creates difficult feelings for me.  I feel like I don’t know him very well and it troubles me.  I am not sure if what I feel is because I did not see him very much the first year or if it is because it is difficult to visit him and not think about my daughter.  Did I miss the “bonding” window of time?  Is there a bonding window of time for grandparents?

So I wonder: do I know how to be a grandparent?

I think the answer is that I can be if I let go of my expectations. 

With the fellowship I am a member of I have learned something about myself.  I tend to either have expectations of how I think other people “should” be or I have expectations of how I should be.  Neither one is good.  I cannot live in the moments of life with joy if I have expectations.  If an expectation is not met, it can lead to feelings of resentment for me, which is really not a good place for me to live in.

I looked up the word ‘expectations’ and learned it is a strong belief that something will happen in the future. It also means a belief that someone should achieve something. Both of these definitions make living in the present nearly impossible.  I would be wise to check my expectations at the door and just live in the moment.  If I am willing to do that, odds are good I will do just fine being “just” a grandma.

I am a grandma.  I am also a grandma raising my grandson.  It’s all good.